Amanda Gates
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A Musings - February 2010

Abigail Thomas (who grew up in Minnesota, by the way) was married to her husband for 12 years when he was hit by a car and suffered from a serious brain injury. He was never the same man again. He lost his short-term memory and was impossible for her to care for on her own. A Three Dog Life is a short memoir made up of quick vignettes about Thomas' life after her husband's accident.

This book was very moving, touching and incredibly sad. While it's not the same situation (Thomas' husband didn't die instantly), it's very reminiscent of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Here are two older women (strong, independent women, I might add) trying to come to terms with their new lives without their husbands and the emotions they feel: sadness, guilt, confusion, numbness...

One of Thomas' ways of coping is to have dogs. She eventually winds up with three and they end up being her lifeblood. When she goes on vacation, she misses them. She sleeps with them. They can read her mind. Anyone who loves dogs knows the kind of connection you can have with those animals, and I'm happy that Thomas had her three dogs to help her through the difficult years of living without and visiting a husband who had a limited memory of their times together.

One chapter in particular was amazing. It focused on Thomas' husband, Rich's, premonition-like ability, even with such a massive brain injury. She describes a time when she was in Mexico and called him at his care facility to see how he is. As she's talking to him, she's staring at the Aztec tiles on the wall. She asks what he did that day and he says, "We painted tiles." Later she asks his caregivers who tell her never in the history of the place have they ever painted tiles. Another time, Thomas is struggling with the thought of selling their apartment in NYC. She hasn't told Rich about this - does he even remember the apartment? And if he did, he wouldn't remember she sold it anyway - but when she arrives to visit him, he tells her he can't go with her because he has to get their apartment ready to sell. In her mind, this was his way of saying, even if he didn't know what he was saying, that it was OK to sell it. The brain (not to mention the mental connection between a couple) is so amazing.

For a quick, albeit sad, read, this memoir is a good one.

Posted: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 02:30 |

I can't wait! (...to set the DVR and try to find time to watch the rest of the fabulous Glee season while taking care of a newborn...)

Posted: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 02:16 | Comments: 1

My girlfriends all gathered together this weekend for my baby shower. Part of the theme was books - go figure! Each guest brought along her favorite childhood book to give me (us, the baby). What a selection, and so many I was unfamiliar with, which just shows how many books there are out there and how different everyone's childhood is from everyone else's. Here's what I got:

The Monster at the End of This Book, Sesame Street (thanks Willikat!)

The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton

Pajama Time!, by Sandra Boynton (thanks CMS!)

Clifford the Big Red Dog
, by Norman Bridwell

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown (a complete classic)

Me Too! and I Was So Mad, by Mercer Mayer (I read ALL of these books when I was little.)

Mouse Paint, by Ellen Stoll Walsh (the illustrations are beautiful)

The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams (thanks maega!)

Richard Scarry's Best Story Book Ever and What People Do All Day (Willikat again)

The Mitten, by Jan Brett

They all make me so happy!

Posted: Fri, 02/12/2010 - 12:46 | Comments: 4

Taking place in 1950s England, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie tells the story of Flavia, a smart, chemistry-loving 11-year-old with no mother and two sisters who ignore her. When Flavia discovers a murder in her garden (which just thrills her, by the way), and her father is taken away, she goes to great lengths to solve the case.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a quick, easy read. Flavia is a darling character. She's witty and smart and brave. At times I thought she was a little too witty and too smart - no 11-year-old could really be like that, could she? - but when I just stopped thinking of her as a typical preteen, I could enjoy her character even more. Her inner monologue was hilarious, her chemistry experiments were clever and her intelligence threw for a loop even the smartest men in town. (Her relationship with the Inspector on the case is tons of fun.)

With there being a murder, there is obviously a mystery she's trying to solve. Right in the middle of the book, she gets a great help from her imprisoned father, who has stories from his past he tells her. While I was reading this part of the book, I thought the author was giving too much away, and I thought he was kind of taking the easy way out. Show us, don't just tell us, what happened. But as the story went on, I realized Flavia had much more of the mystery to solve and not too much was given away too soon. This is definitely a cute and fun read, with a sweet ending to boot.

(And thanks to Bending Bookshelf, now I know there's a sequel in the works!)

Posted: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 02:18 | Comments: 1

For parts I & II.

In September, Rubin decided to pursue a passion: Books. What a perfect topic for me! She took time to try and write a novel - taking a page (ha) from NaNoWriMo. She also vowed to make more time for reading, which made her rethink how much TV she watches. As fellow reader AND TV watcher, I liked that she understood that watching TV with your spouse can be a companion activity, even more so than just reading in the same room. This was shorter chapter because, as one would think, if you already enjoy doing something - here, reading - then it'll probably be pretty easy to do. I can't decide, but maybe she should've picked a different (more complex, challenging?) passion?

In October, she talks about mindfulness. This can be looked at any many ways, whether spiritually or just by paying more attention. But, it did make her look at those "rules" we all create for ourselves (Exercise! Eat right! My children come first!) and reevaluate and maybe rephrase them so they don't seem so overwhelming and impossible to meet every day. This month also made her try new things, such a hypnosis, dancing around the house and portrait drawing. While certain things made her feel more aware, others didn't. As with any passion or new thing we learn, Rubin did become a bit obsessed with happiness - and she realized she could sometimes bully people into taking on their own happiness. Here again she showed some true colors that she could've very easily kept to herself.

November was all about attitude. She wanted to "cultivate a light-hearted, loving and kind spirit." When I read this, I said to myself, 'Maybe this should've come earlier in the year?' It felt like the entire project really boils down to attitude. Maybe in January she should've focused on her attitude and worked on that all year long? Or, does it make more sense to wait until the end? Maybe our attitudes are so hard to change that she needed to warm up with all the other things? In any regard, I find attitude so important. I've found that the days I can "let it go," or just laugh at the annoying and feel happier just because - those are the good days, those are the days I can fall asleep much better at night.

The last month of the year was to practice everything. Rubin also reviewed the year and looked at how things had changed. Was she happier? If so, did her happiness rub off on the rest of the household? While her conclusions were fairly obvious, or just restated from portions of the previous chapters, I still found them rather enlightening.

I've had some discussion with friends about the purpose of this book. I know people who went into reading it expecting more of a "self-help" type of book: Tell me how to find happiness. It's not that. This is one woman telling you her story of a year trying to make herself happier. But the thing is, you don't have to look too deeply to find the lessons. You can very easily take what she learns and apply them to your own life (pay attention, clear clutter, pursue a passion...). Those that work, work. Those that don't, skip. So, in the end, I think Rubin, through memoir, does offer up some self-help - you just have to look for it.

Posted: Mon, 02/01/2010 - 15:07 | Comments: 1